Hugh tried to duck down behind his shield, but he had to adjust his stance to accommodate the arrows sticking out of his arm and leg. He reached up and felt the arrow in his neck, running his hand down the shaft to wear it met his skin.
He looked at his hand and expected to see it red with blood, but there was nothing. The arrow on his thigh didn’t seem to bleed much, either. He pulled it out, and noticed the arrowhead was very thin. He’s never seen an arrowhead like it. He pulled the arrow from his arm and then slowly the one from his neck. He felt his neck wound again and looked at his hand. There was only a little blood.
Before now, Hugh’s adrenaline hadn’t even really kicked in, but now he was seething inside. His blood felt hot running through his veins and his breathing got deeper. He ripped off his armor, threw aside his shield, and left his maul on the ground.
He stood and screamed at the horsemen before charging them. They turned to retreat again. Hugh ran faster than he felt he ever had before, and he caught up to one of the horse archers. He grabbed him by the shoulder, dragging him off his horse. He gripped his ribcage in one hand, his pelvis in the other, and ripped him in two. He threw each half of the Otros man at other horsemen, hitting with both but failing to slow them down.
Hugh looked back to see the Politian line advancing behind him. He fell back and recovered his shield and maul as soldiers stared at him with horrified looks.
“Um, Hugh, are you okay?” asked the dwarf, walking up to him.
“Yeah, why?” asked Hugh.
The dwarf pointed at Hugh, and he looked down to see himself feathered with several arrows. He pulled them out by the handful, bleeding only slightly.
“It doesn’t make sense,” said Hugh. “The arrowheads are not broad enough to do any real harm.”
“I think they use pointed tips to pierce armor,” said the dwarf. “I don’t think they anticipated having to bleed a big guy like you. Come on, let’s keep closing in. We need to reach the forest up there so we can cut them off from going around us.”
The Politian line continued to close in and they formed a perfect loop extending from the river to the forest that lay behind the Otros line. The dwarf and giant began shouting orders, and their signalman hoisted a large red flag.
“That’s the signal to send archers,” said the dwarf. “They’ll line up behind us and provide cover as we advance in on them, hopefully coming up behind them.”
“If we had been outflanked, we’d have to raise the yellow flag for cavalry support, but we did our job,” said the giant.
Hugh, wearing only a long cloth frock stained in blood, finally began feeling the injuries he had sustained. The whole front of him stung. He felt lightheaded. He looked down at all the blood, dropped to his knees, leaned forward, and puked. “I don’t feel so good,” he said.
“We’ll get you patched up after this,” said the dwarf. “Just hold it together. I’ve seen you deal with worse.”
The giant rubbed Hugh’s back. “Yeah, remember the time that boar gored you in the stomach and you had to hold your intestines in until we got home and could stitch you up?”
Hugh wiped a long line of saliva and vomit that was hanging from his lip. “Yeah, I think… I think I’m okay.” He stood up and moved forward with the line.
They held that position for a while, waiting for a signal. The Otros seemed to largely be retreating to the forest. The minutes turned to an hour, then two, and it seemed like the fighting was over, or had taken some sort of break. They began to wonder where the Politian archers were.
Eventually, a horse came galloping behind the Politian line, the rider shouting something. When the rider made his way to where Hugh and the twins were, they could hear him yelling about a fire.
“…it is spreading faster than we can handle. The docks have been set on fire, and they are spreading faster than we can handle. The docks have been…”
The rider stopped at Hugh and said, “The docks –”
“We heard you,” said the dwarf. “What happened?”
“Dozens of Otros archers fired incendiary arrows over the wall at the docks,” he said. “You are to hold this position until…”
The rider fell off his horse, an arrow sticking out of the back of his neck. A large group of Otros horsemen rode up from behind, with more streaming out of the forest.
“Turn!” shouted the giant, as everyone shifted to face the enemy coming from behind them.
It was not only archers this time, as several of the horsemen carried long spears. As the archer’s laid down heavy fire upon the disoriented Politian line, the spearmen mowed through rows of Politians as they cowered, confused, behind their shields.
Hugh managed to knock a couple of the spearmen off their horses with his maul, and the dwarf took out the legs on another horse with his axe, sending the rider sprawling to the ground, where he was set upon by Polity soldiers. The spearmen who made it through turned towards the Politian line that ran parallel to the river, while the archers raced for the river behind the Politian line.
The archers unloaded arrow after arrow on the line, while a few of the spearmen periodically plowed their spears into the line where they saw Politian troops turned to face the archers. Every Politian was forced to choose who to face, and in many places where the line was now only one soldier deep, the Otros caught them looking the wrong way.
The Otros horsemen continued down the whole length of the line, until they were out of sight. Polity’s archer support for the flank never showed up.
Hours passed, yet everyone felt jumpy, certain that they saw horses in the woods, though no more attacks took place that day before the sun set. As night fell, another Politian rider rode behind the line, ordering everyone to make camp for the night. When the rider reached Hugh and the twins, they were ordered to follow him to meet with the commanders.
The archers never came because they had been deployed to the wall after the docks were lit on fire. The losses were extensive for Polity, while they were few for the Otros. By most accounts, Hugh had killed almost half of the actual Otros who fell. The initial ground attack by the Otros had been composed of captives taken both from other lands and from within Polity’s surrounding farms. Herbert looked angrier than Hugh had ever seen a person, yet he never raised his voice. He just looked like he would snap at any second.
After the meeting, which seemed to focus on what a miserable failure the day had been, Hugh and the twins retired to the forge, where they worked on making a helmet for Hugh. When they finished, they went to bed as smoke continued to hang over the docks in the moonlight. Hugh fell asleep that night while attendants dressed his wounds as he lay in bed.
In the morning, they all arose and prepared yet again for battle. Hugh wore no armor this time, only his helmet and blood stained frock. When they reached the start of the Politian line, they were greeted by a page on foot. “Hugh is to report to the central vanguard at once,” he said.
As they approached Herbert, he turned to face them. “The Otros have offered a deal that would end the fighting until next season. The whole city would be in your debt, Hugh.”
“What’s the deal?” asked Hugh.
“You would represent the city as our champion in one-on-one combat against their finest warrior. If you win, they will retreat until spring.”
“And if I lose?”
“Let’s just assume you’ll win,” said Herbert.
“Assure me this,” said Hugh. “If I lose, no harm will come to the twins.”
“To the best of my knowledge, they would remain unharmed, given the terms.”
“Assure me that they will be unharmed,” said Hugh.
Herbert nodded. “I assure you, they will be unharmed.”
“Okay,” said Hugh. “I’ll do it.”
“Wonderful,” Hebert said smiling. “I know you’ll win. I can’t imagine anyone defeating you.”
“I’m not invincible,” said Hugh, pointing to some bandages on his arms.
“Their champion will meet you in the middle here. Best of luck to you,” said Herbert.
Hugh turned to the twins, hugged each of them, and walked out to the middle of the no-man’s land, maul and shield in hand.
When he reached about where he thought was the middle, he stopped and stood there, watching for the one from the Otros line who would to face him. After a few seconds, an old man with a large staff limped forward. He moved slowly, leaning heavily on his walking stick. He had white hair and a long white beard with a hood over his balding head. As he got closer, Hugh could see the man had only one eye.
“I’ve never fought someone else with only one eye before,” said Hugh.
The old man smiled. “I’m not fighting you.”
“Oh… who am I fighting then?”
The man stuck his staff a few inches into the ground and carved out what looked to Hugh like an oblong five-pointed star. When he had closed the shape, he stepped back, bent down, and picked up some dirt. He then yelled, “Mud and dirt, clay and turf, listen to my song. Mighty ground, green and brown, make my golem strong.” He then sang words Hugh did not recognize.
There was a loud ripping sound, and the shape the old man carved into the ground stood up like a large man, about the size of Hugh. Before Hugh could process what was going on, it lunged for him.
Hugh wrestled with the faceless form, unable to gain the upper hand. Hugh eventually pushed it away with his shield and swung his maul at it, knocking a large chunk out of the midsection. The creature bent down, scooped up more dirt, and filled in the injury before going after Hugh again. Hugh futilely struggled with it, dropping his maul and shield this time to focus on grappling.
Whenever Hugh thought he had gained the upper hand, whether he had thrown the creature to the ground or was straddling it and pounding (even digging) away at it, it would get a burst of strength and overpower Hugh once again.
“Had enough?” asked the old man between laughs.
Hugh panted as the dirt monster stood motionless for a moment. Hugh shook his head and dove for the thing yet again, toppling it over yet again. The fight went on for over an hour, Hugh always temporarily gaining the advantage, only for the golem to regain its strength and mightily overtake Hugh. The golem seemed to never tire, while Hugh was getting worn out by the minute.
“Maybe you would like a break?” asked the old man.
“Can we?” asked Hugh, panting.
“I’ll give you enough time to discuss forfeiting with your general,” said the old man. “There’s no sense in anyone getting hurt.”
“I’m not giving up,” said Hugh.
“Then make it quick. If we’re going to bury you, I’d like it done before lunch,” said the old man.
Hugh slinked back to the line, struggling to breathe the entire way. Water was waiting for him when he arrived.
“Don’t drink too much,” said the giant. “You’ll get a cramp.”
“How do I defeat a monster made of dirt?” asked Hugh.
“Maybe you should use a shovel,” said the dwarf.
Hugh drank deeply from the large cup, wiping his mouth afterwards. “No, that’s not going to do it.”
Hugh took off his helmet as he tried to catch his breath. “I have an idea,” he said. “The old man said something about the ground giving him strength…”
Hugh slowly approached the golem again. This time, instead of knocking it over, he lifted it into the air. The old man looked shocked. Hugh then carried the golem back to the Politian line, all the while it struggled in his grip, but he held it fast. When he reached the line, he just kept going, walking all the way to the riverbed. He then threw the golem into the river, where it dissolved in the water.
Hugh walked back out to the old man.
“There, now leave,” he said.
“You are a rare specimen,” said the old man. He bowed low before slowly heading back to the Otros line. A horseman rode out to Hugh. It was Jengo. When he reached Hugh, he dismounted and walked up to him. He handed Hugh his helmet.
“My hat’s off to you.” he said.
Hugh took the helmet and looked it over before addressing Jengo. “Thank you,” he said.
“I look forward to facing you again, Hugh,” said Jengo, mounting his horse. “Your city is safe for the winter, you have my word.”
“It’s not my city.”
“Yet you fight and risk dying for it?” asked Jengo.
“They have treated me well as a guest,” said Hugh.
Jengo shook his head. “If only I had met you first, you would know true hospitality and I would have the finest warrior in the world.” With that, Jengo turned and rode off with the entire Otros army.
To be continued…